Erica Bain (Jodie Foster), a radio commentator (think NPR’s Terry Gross or Ira Glass) is quite possibly the happiest woman in New York. Her fiancée, David (Naveen Andrews, TV’s “Lost”) is a doctor and they are madly in love and about to get married. They show up at a friend’s art show and she, only slightly sarcastically, comments “I hate you” referring to their bubbly, enthusiastic love. After the art show, they take their dog for a walk in Central Park. As they walk through Stranger’s Gate, their dog runs ahead and they lose track of him. They soon learn three thugs are holding him. They start to hassle the couple and David fights back, but they are soon overwhelmed as the robbers beat the heck out of Erica and David, videotaping everything. Erica spends a few weeks in a coma and comes out of the sleep bruised and battered. David’s mother breaks the news to her and Erica returns home afraid of the outdoors, afraid of being alone. She makes her way to the police station, to try to find out if any progress has been made in finding David’s killers. Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard) and Detective Vitale (Nicky Katt) are trying their best, but are overwhelmed. She returns to work, but her heart isn’t in it. She decides to buy a gun for protection. Riding the subway, a couple of thugs start hassling people in Erica’s car. They all get off at the next stop, but Erica stays aboard. After they threaten her, she takes out the gun and shoots both. Strangely, she finds her hands shake less and less with each act of retribution. She makes contact with Detective Mercer and they form a sort of passing friendship. As he hunts for the guy who did the subway killing, she keeps close tabs on his activities, while trying to exorcise the demons living within her.
Directed by Neil Jordan and written by Roderick and Bruce Taylor (who have a lot of television credits to their names), “The Brave One” is part “Death Wish” and part parable. It works on certain levels and doesn’t on others.
Considering Jodie Foster makes so few films, and has played such interesting roles in the past, you half hope, half expect each film she does to make a similar impact. When it doesn’t, it feels like a let down. Why else would she take such great pains to look for great material and only make films every two or three years? Because she spends so long looking for projects, you would expect her to hold out for the best project, or the most impactful.
I am sure part of the attraction for Foster to make “The Brave One” lies in the Charles Bronson- “Death Wish” aspect of Erica’s character. I can’t think of a lot of films (any?) in which a female plays a vigilante type. And she is very believable in her portrayal of Erica. After the horrific events of her fiancée’s death, we can recognize her pain and understand her actions. If we were in the same situation, we would probably have the same feelings. I think it is a little far fetched that she suddenly has the ability, knowledge and capability to start hunting down people, but the film addresses this by making her apprehensive about this. At first. As she starts to dispatch bad people, she becomes better at it, less nervous, surer of what she is doing. It is interesting, if not entirely believable, to watch this evolution. Foster does a good job of presenting this change in her character. We watch the evolution subtly change her into a more confident woman.
As she becomes more familiar with Mercer, he shares a story about a ‘Bad Man’ who he is having trouble dealing with. Erica takes it upon her self to help him out with this ‘problem’. This is where “The Brave One” started to lose me. It becomes less a story about Erica’s survival and redemption and more about her practicing her new skill. It starts to become a little too Macho Action Hero. It doesn’t make sense that she would suddenly start hunting down ‘Bad Men’ who have no connection to her. Is she trying to be a super hero? It isn’t believable.
Terrence Howard does a good job as Detective Mercer. Mercer is a normal guy, with a normal guy’s problems; he wants to get back with his ex-wife, he has a job that overwhelms him, he works too many hours and has trouble figuring things out on occasion.
Initially, Erica and Mercer get together because she approaches him to do a story about him for her radio show. He has heard the show, and eventually agrees, maybe because he is so overwhelmed by the job. Erica is trying to keep tabs on the investigation, so they start to talk and meet, and become friends.
Less successful are the film’s attempts to inject some humor into the story. There is some banter between Mercer and his partner, Vitale. Funny banter, but not funny enough. It smacks of TV Detective Procedural. Also, one of the suspects they bring in seems to be pulled out of one of the many unsuccessful “Law and Order” wannabees on television. The film would have benefited greatly from leaving these moments out.
Ultimately, I guess these moments move the film away from the tale of redemption I expected and more towards a tale of downright revenge. But considering Erica kills people who had nothing to do with her fiancée’s death, is it really revenge?
Neil Jordan is an accomplished filmmaker and he creates a very polished film. In the opening moments, we see a stylized view of what Erica sees as she walks the streets, recording the sounds of New York for her radio show. These techniques are similar to how a filmmaker would show us the views of someone who is going blind and this makes sense. Erica’s employment involves sound, so she would naturally be more attuned to that. After the traumatic events, these same techniques are used in a similar way to give us a view of Erica’s very different view of the world. She has been through a lot and sees the world through different eyes now.
But there are, as mentioned, moments that feel plucked out of a bad detective television show, the type written and directed by someone who has never even set foot in a police station. They ring false. In a film about a woman who becomes a vigilante, everything needs to ring true, or it starts to fall apart.
Then, there is the ending. Naturally, Erica will have a big confrontation with the men who attacked her and killed her fiancée. But what she does during this confrontation would never happen. Ever. And Mercer’s actions? Nope. Wouldn’t happen either. These moments are interesting, well shot but ring completely false and belong in another film. These final moments really hurt the film.
“The Brave One” is an interesting film to watch, mainly due to Jodie Foster’s powerful performance, but there are too many moments robbing the film of its intended impact to make it a successful film. Or memorable for any other reason than it is the film in which Jodie Foster plays a vigilante.